Austin Joson and Nino Dzneladze: A Ballroom Couple Destined for the Spotlight
When 20-year-old Austin Joson and 19-year-old Nino Dzneladze dance, they're completely, intensely connected. Whether they're doing a sharp, energetic jive or a smooth, sensual rumba, their bodies move as one. Their technique is impeccable. Their chemistry is electric. And over the past year and a half, ballroom judges all over the world have taken notice.
In 2014, when their partnership was only a few months old, Austin and Nino won the Dutch Open and the Open World Championship in Paris, both in the under-21 Latin category. In 2015, they won the U.S. National Amateur DanceSport Championship for under-21 Latin, as well as the Amateur Rising Star Latin category at Blackpool Dance Festival in England—a competition Austin calls “the Wimbledon of dance." With top marks at other DanceSport events around the world, there's no question that they're a couple to watch.
Nino, who moved with her family from her native Ukraine to L.A. at age 13, has studied Latin dance since age 4 and competed since age 6. Austin, born and raised in New Jersey, has trained and competed since age 9. They initially met as competitors, each achieving success with other partners. “She and her partner beat me the first time we competed against each other," Austin remembers. “And then we kept trading wins back and forth. I thought Nino was fantastic—she came across as so fierce and passionate." The interest was mutual, with Nino admiring Austin's suave strength on the dance floor.
The two casually discussed partnering up, but the geographic divide proved difficult; Nino's parents weren't eager for her to move across the country. Everything changed after a competition in Florida, when Austin and Nino sat down to talk at an after-party and realized how well-matched they really were in terms of style and goals. Nino went home to plead her case—and this time, it worked. “My mom saw how my previous partnership was becoming very hard," she says. “I didn't enjoy it anymore. I really wanted to dance with Austin to regain my passion." At 17, Nino moved to the East Coast, and the dynamic duo's partnership began.
It was a complete leap of faith. “Usually with a new partner, there's a trial period," Austin says. “But we didn't even have a tryout. We dropped everything to dance with each other, because we just knew it was going to be special."
What sets the pair apart from their peers? “Nino is a powerful and strong dancer who is still able to look very soft and feminine," says their coach, Vibeke Toft, a former ballroom champion in her own right. “Austin has a spontaneous musicality and great partnering skills. Together, they have a fiery chemistry, which is always exciting to watch."
That fire between them presented challenges as they got to know each other. “We argued a lot at first," Austin says. “We're very stubborn because we're both so passionate." Nino remembers one blowup before a competition: “We were so angry that it was like we were fighting on the dance floor!" she says, with a laugh. “I can't even remember what we were angry about."
Now, the two train at Starlight Dance Center in Nutley, NJ. They're a couple both in dance and in life, which Austin says is “special, but sometimes complicated, as feelings cross over from outside to inside the studio." They spend so much time together—training, teaching, traveling and, of course, performing—that they've had to learn how to handle heated situations carefully and maturely, without losing the spark that brought them together. “We connect on a deep level," Austin says. “Her passion is my passion. We dive into that when we dance."
What's next for these two? Aside from school—Nino's finishing high school and Austin is a student at Montclair State University in Montclair, NJ—they're committed to devoting themselves to the craft of Latin dance, competing as often as three times a month in the U.S. and internationally. “One of our goals is to win the professional circuit," Austin says, “but we also want to leave a stamp on the industry. We want people to remember us."
There's a great big ballroom dance world out there—beyond what Hollywood shows you. Most of those “Dancing with the Stars" pros and elite “So You Think You Can Dance" contestants cut their teeth in competitive ballroom dance, also known as DanceSport. We asked Austin and Nino to give us a glimpse behind the ballroom curtain.
Latin vs. Standard: The two primary DanceSport categories are International Latin, which includes the samba, rumba, paso doble, jive and cha-cha, and International Standard, which includes the waltz, tango, Viennese waltz, fox-trot and quickstep. Some dancers compete in both categories, while others specialize in one or the other. (Austin and Nino are Latin dancers, though Austin began his career doing both.)
Level Breakdown: Each competition has a whole spectrum of levels and age brackets, leading up to open amateur and professional categories. “The top amateur couples may be just as good as the professional couples," Austin says. “The term 'professional,' in our industry, is quite loose. Anyone who's dancing at a high level can turn professional and compete for that title."
Competition Nuts and Bolts: Competing couples perform all five Latin or Standard dances multiple times as they advance toward the final round. The early rounds are broken into heats. “If there are 48 couples in a round, there might be three heats of 16 couples," Austin explains. “Everyone does the cha-cha—heat one, heat two, heat three—and then everyone does the samba, and so on." By the semifinals, everyone's on the floor at the same time, and the remaining couples perform all five dances in a row.
Taking the Floor: Each dance is a minute and a half to two minutes long. Couples prepare choreography in advance, but the music is always different. “That's why interpreting the music on the spot has to be one of your skills," Austin says. Another important skill? The ability to maneuver around other couples on the floor! Studios will often hold group practice nights before competitions to help dancers hone their spatial awareness.
Judges' Choice: At DanceSport events, the judges walk the dance floor. “The criteria get harder as the day goes on," Austin says. “They want to see technique, performance and artistry." In the early rounds, judges simply mark who's moving forward. In the finals, couples are ranked. The overall winner is determined by calculating who scored the highest based on all of the judges' rankings.
5 Fun Facts About Nino
Birthday: January 14, 1997
Favorite Color: Black
Favorite Cuisine: Georgian food (her parents are from the country of Georgia)
Favorite Movie: Home Alone
Nino in Three Emojis:
😱 😘 😍
5 Fun Facts About Austin
Birthday: August 7, 1995
Favorite Color: Blue
Favorite Cuisine: Italian food
Austin in Three Emojis:
😂 ❤️ 😎
Most Embarrassing Dance Moment: “I did a performance in New York in front of a huge audience, and my pants came undone! I had to figure out how to do a romantic rumba while holding up my pants."
Get in, losers. We're going to Broadway.
OK, not losers, actually—more like the bajillion die-hard fans of Tina Fey's 2004 cult hit Mean Girls, who've been wearing pink every Wednesday since a musical adaptation of the film was first teased back in 2013.
Now their world is like a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, because Mean Girls the musical, which had a trial run in Washington, DC, last fall, is set to open at Broadway's August Wilson Theatre April 8. And in a very grool twist, it turns out the show—with direction and choreography by Casey Nicholaw and a book by Fey herself—is delightfully dancey.
Principal Lloyd Knight has become a true standout in the Martha Graham Dance Company thanks to his compelling presence and dynamic technique. Knight, who performs leading roles in iconic pieces like Appalachian Spring and Embattled Garden, was born in England and raised in Miami, where he trained at the Miami Conservatory and later graduated from New World School of the Arts. He received scholarships to The Ailey School and The Dance Theatre of Harlem School in NYC and joined MGDC in 2005. Catch him onstage with MGDC during its New York City Center season this month. —Courtney Bowers
They say there's no "I" in "team"—and nowhere is that truer than the world of college dance teams, where precision reigns, uniformity is key, and a single misstep from any given "I" can cost a group a championship trophy. So it's unsurprising that securing a spot on one of the best dance teams in the country is no easy feat.
Members of these highly athletic teams rehearse for hours every week—on top of academic classes and commitments—and perform at football and basketball games, annual concerts, and nationally televised competitions (hi, ESPN). And "no I" rule notwithstanding, each of these top teams is made up of highly trained, highly technical, highly hard-core individuals, who come together to create a ready-for-victory pack.
These six teams aren't one-off success stories—they're consistently strong, and earn the top spots at major competitions like UDA and NDA nearly every year. Up for the challenge? Here's what to know before you go to auditions.
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In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email firstname.lastname@example.org for a chance to be featured!
I'm a hip-hop and jazz dancer, and I want to get involved in the commercial-dance world. I've never studied ballet, but people keep telling me I "have to" take ballet classes if I want to make it professionally. Is that really true? My family has limited money for dance classes, and I have to be careful about how I spend it.
Everyone loves a good viral video, especially when there's dancing involved. And though many viral videos are contrived and created for the soul purpose of instafame, the story behind the latest video catching the eyes of millions—including Rihanna, super model Naomi Campbell, and Diddy—is even more unique because it features children who don't even know who those celebrities are.
A dance troupe in Nigeria has become the next internet sensation, thanks to their exuberant dancing and passion with which they perform. Their enthusiasm for dance is evident in every step and it's hard not to smile as you see these children (who range from ages 6 to 15) express pure joy in something as simple as dance. These nine kids are part of The Dream Catchers, an organization started by 26-year-old Seyi Oluyole, that gives impoverished children a place to live while teaching them how to dance.
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Some parents aren't able to, don't know how to, or choose not to give you the kind of support you need to thrive in the studio. And when your parents are adding stress to your life, rather than alleviating it, there's a lot at stake. "Dancers who don't have the support of their parents might struggle with self-doubt," says Dr. Linda Hamilton, a former dancer with New York City Ballet and a clinical psychologist specializing in the performing arts, "while those whose parents are too involved can crack under the pressure." Whether your parents aren't there when you need them or they're always there, practically smothering you, try these tips to improve your situation.
On Friday night, the iconic RuPaul made history as the first drag queen ever to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And it didn't take long for the world's most fabulous RuPaul fan/one of our favorite human beings, Mark Kanemura, to commemorate his idol's accomplishment with—naturally—a WALK to end all walks.